ACOM Book Club News - June 2018

Book Club june 2018The ACOM Book Club met on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at Judy Ohanessian's house. Judy provided pita bread and hummus, a salad and a nice dessert, along with red and white wine.

Attendees this month were Tashina, Judy, Andrea, Francis, Al, Joe and me. The book for this month was "Mayrig" by Henri Verneuil

The question was asked as to why Henri Verneuil changed his name from the Armenian one, Ashot Malakian. Nobody had a ready answer.

We started out talking about how some of the member's parents left Armenia. Those with Armenian parents talked about how their parents and grandparents didn't talk about the genocide in most cases. Judy's parents were open about it. Joe's grandmother told her daughter about it late in life. Others wouldn't talk about it at all.

Francis talked about how his grandfather came back to Turkey and found all of the relatives who survived the genocide and brought them to Beirut. He doesn't know why that location was chosen.

Andrea referred to the database that Armenia has on the population of the Armenian cities in Anatolia before and after the genocide.

Andrea - Henri's earliest awareness of the genocide was the commemoration in 1924.
Judy - You learn more about his aunts than about his mother. Henri refers to both of his aunts as being more like mothers to him.
Joe - Also than about his father.
Andrea - He talked about the deaths of his father, mother and Anna, but not the other aunt, Gayane.
Francis - Consideration of one aunt who had a chance to marry, but chose not to to stay with the family.

We talked about the parents selling their wedding rings to get the son's ring, and then Henri looking at his mother's hand when she died and noting the missing ring.

Francis thought it was an absolutely beautiful story. The writing style was great. The paragraph describing the teacher he didn't like was great.

Judy - The parents and aunts focused on their only child and sacrificed everything for him.
Francis liked the way Henri got back at his former classmate when he was a successful adult.
Tashina read the book in French because that was the only copy she could get cheaply and quickly.
Judy mentioned the idea that boys are more valued than girls in Armenian family.
The family poured all of their hopes into their one son.
The father was the captain of a fishing ship in Turkey, but had to take a factory job in Marseilles.
Francis referred to the birthday party where Henri was looked down on because of his clothes.
Francis really loved the first chapter of the book.
The word "Munches" (my dear son) - Francis doesn't remember it, but Joe said that his grandfather called him that all of the time.
Judy mentioned that her father divorced her mother because she only had 3 daughters and didn't give him a son. We then discussed the relative importance of girls and boys in Armenian families.

Francis & Joe - They carried gold coins out by using them as buttons. In some cases this caused problems because the Armenians were stripped so their clothes could be searched.

Francis discussed how his family was warned to leave and go to Beirut. We discussed how the family in "Mayrig" was warned to leave, also, and why they may have received warning.

Al returned the discussion as to why many cultures preferred boys to girls as children. Judy gave the example of India where girls cost money because of the dowry required to get married, while boys didn't require that expense. Even in the early U.S., following existing English law, women couldn't even own property. On the other hand, in cultures like in Armenia, the house was run by the women. The man ruled outside.

We turned to a side discussion of making paklava. Joe and Judy had made it.

Francis talked about how when Persia conquered Armenia at one point, they moved a bunch of Armenian craftsmen back to the Persian capital, Isfahan.

Discussion then moved to when the Turks did their initial gathering in of important Armenians to kill in 1915. There was one Armenian in Istanbul who betrayed the other Armenians. He was later killed by an assassin of project Nemesis.

Andrea talked about how in "Mayrig" the French tax collector issued a big tax bill to Mayrig's family, but when he found out their history he ended up rearranging things and advising them on how to avoid any future taxes. She thought that this was one of the most beautiful parts of the book.

We had a discussion of what Marseilles was like in the book and why the family didn't ever feel comfortable there. A lot of Armenians settled in Marseilles and there was an Armenian church there. When Francis's family moved from Beirut to the U.S. they passed through Marseilles.

Francis read the paragraph in the book which described one of his teachers, Mademoiselle Laura. He thought that the wording was gorgeous.

We talked about memory and how well some people can remember details.

Francis mentioned the sugar-coated almonds in the book. Francis wasn't familiar with them, but Joe and Judy referred to them always being at their family's major events like weddings. (Jordan almonds?)

I gave my opinion of the book as being very poor because I assumed that the book would be about the author's Armenian mother, but instead it was almost totally about him. I was very disappointed. The others gave their interpretations as to why the focus was the author and gave the opinion that there were actually three 'Mayrigs', because both of the aunts treated Henri like a son, too.

Joe talked about the book "Last Train From Istanbul". He strongly recommends it. It's about the Turks trying to save Jews in Paris in World War II. He compared it to this book because both groups of people had fled to France to escape the Ottoman Empire. He wondered why the Turks viewed the Jews as Turks, but couldn't view the Armenians as Turks. He hadn't realized that there were so many Jews in Turkey. I pointed out that a large number of the Jews that were driven out of Spain during the Spanish Inquisition ended up in the Ottoman Empire.

Tashina briefly talked about the differences and similarities between the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.

Francis talked about Henri's treatment for fever. He had had a similar "cup" treatment while in China and it left black and blue marks and burns all over his back.

Andrea compared the doting on the son in this book with the mother and aunts doting on their daughter in "The Bastard of Istanbul".

Andrea was impressed with the way the father taught himself to sew.

Francis liked the way the book spent one chapter talking about the genocide. He also liked the story of the stolen tomatoes.

Joe talked about comparing the current refugees with the Armenian refugees. Judy said that if she were in the situation of some of the Central Americans, she would do everything in her power to get her kids across the border.

Francis liked that the author wouldn't say "Turkish Coffee". He would say "Middle Eastern coffee, whether Armenian or Greek". He also liked the saying "May you grow old on the same pillow."

Someone brought up how Henri said that he was in love with one of his teachers. We all talked about teachers that we thought that we were in love with while in school.

The discussion continued for another half-hour, but I think that I've covered enough.

The ACOM Book Club will not meet for the next two months. Our next meeting will be in September at a location to be determined then. We have chosen the books for September and October:

September - "Arshiel Gorky His Life and Works" by Haydn Herrera.

October - "Archaeology of Madness" by Rita Soulahian Kuyumjian. (The life of Komitas)

Have a good summer and "I'll see you in September".


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